Vets put Heels in ACC title game

UNC beats Pitt, look to win first ACC title since 2016

North Carolina guard RJ Davis (4) reacts during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game against Pittsburgh in the semifinal round of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament Friday, March 15, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)

After the clock ran down in UNC’s 72-65 win over Pitt in the ACC Semifinals, Tar Heels Armando Bacot and RJ Davis headed toward each other and hugged.

“RJ has been our closer all year, and he hit some huge shots,” Bacot, a fifth-year senior, said of his fourth-year teammate. “So I was really just embracing him and telling him thank you.”

“We set goals at the beginning of this year,” Davis said. “For us to be one more game away means a lot, but the job is not finished.”

The Tar Heels advance to the ACC Championship Game on Saturday night. They will try to cut down the nets at the conference tournament for the first time since 2016.

Pitt made sure the Heels earned their spot in the title game, however. Pitt led UNC at halftime and hanging tight throughout the second half. Carolina built a lead as large as seven points, but Pitt rallied and tied the score at 62 with four and a half minutes to play.

That’s when the Tar Heel veterans stepped up. Davis hit a three-pointer on the next possession.

“Yeah, like I said all year, RJ has been our closer,” Bacot said, “and in moments like that it’s a huge luxury to know you can put the ball in our guards’ hands and he’ll either make the shot or make the right play. I think it just it shows all the hard work he’s put in to be able to make a huge shot like that when we need him most on the biggest stage.”

UNC coach Hubert Davis pointed out that a screen from Bacot helped get Davis open on his tiebreaking three.

“Specifically, in the second half, we put the ball in the hands of RJ and Armando,” said Hubert Davis, “and if they didn’t score, just their passing and decision making was just fantastic. Then after RJ hit that three, he looked over. I don’t know if he was looking over at me for approval. I was like, yeah, I like that, that’s nice. Do it again. So it was great.”

Carolina promptly scored seven unanswered points, on a pair of Davis threes and a Bacot free throw. Between them, Bacot and Davis scored the final 18 points for UNC in the game. Davis finished with 25 points, Bacot 18. Four times in the game, Davis scored to give UNC the lead.

“The Player of the Year (Davis) stepped up and made plays,” said Pitt coach Jeff Capel. “You have to tip your hat to him. He made a deep three, a 28-footer, some pull-ups. He just made plays. Then Bacot, their two older guys, experienced guys, stepped up and made plays.”

The win helped Carolina’s argument that the Heels deserve a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. One of the top challengers for a one-seed, Tennessee, lost in an SEC Tournament blow out, helping to push the door open a little wider for UNC.

And with veterans like the Tar Heels have, a little daylight is all they need.

“Just having two players like that on my team,” said Harrison Ingram, “it makes it a lot more easier for me to just trust them to do their job, and I do my job.”